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The New B2B Social Media Game: Pay for Play + Engagement

The social media landscape has changed. Just a few years ago, marketers were able to build an audience, push out content, and know that it would reach everyone. Now, that's no longer the case. With Instagram, Facebook, and other social networks leaning on increasingly opaque algorithms, brands need to be smarter if they want to make social media work for them.

The newB2B social media playbook features two big changes: the rise of pay for play as a worthwhile investment, and a sharp rise in the value and necessity of audience engagement. An effective inbound marketing program utilizes social media to drive traffic back to your website. This article will discuss how your company can make that happen effectively on Facebook and Instagram, and continue meeting your inbound goals.

Understanding the Algorithms

First, it’s important to understand a few core pieces of information about these new feed algorithms. They’re already shaping the user experience on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a few other social networks, deciding what users see when they log in and look at their homepage feed.

Why? Because no one wants to be bombarded with a million different advertisements and empty rehashings of old content from every brand or person they’ve ever liked or followed. It would—and did—quickly render these networks essentially unusable for anyone who dared to engage commercial entities and open the floodgates.

The Effect of Algorithms in Social Media 

That’s why each of these networks has taken steps to refine the user experience with algorithm-driven user feeds. In much the same way Google uses algorithms to determine the value of search results and sort them for your consideration, Facebook and Instagram now sort the endless output of the brands and people users follow and produce a much-shortened list based on countless factors.

The exact algorithms at work vary with the platform. Facebook, for example, has long utilized a very sophisticated system designed to predict with pinpoint accuracy the likelihood that a given user with like, share, comment on, or report a particular item from their feed. Hundreds of factors add together to produce a single relevancy score, which is then used to decide whether that post gets a position of honor on the user’s feed, or vanishes into the bowels of the system.

The Weight of Actions

To give an idea of what factors Facebook is looking at, let’s consider video content. Some users care about video content—others don’t. But likes, follows, and comments aren’t necessarily enough to separate the two groups, let alone divide those interested in videos even further and make sure they’re getting the right videos. So instead, Facebook also notes all the little usage details of how users watch videos: turning up the volume or maximizing the window indicates interest and improves the relevancy score of similar videos.

So what does this sort of intense analysis and content sharing mean for brands looking to make their mark on social media and feed an effective inbound marketing engine? It means you’re going to get a lot smarter about how you go through the front door, or start paying to enter through the back.

Utilizing Paid Media

Going through the front door takes some preparation and care, so first, let’s talk about the quicker, surer choice: paid advertising on social media. There was a time when this was essentially a waste of money—anyone you got to ‘like’ your page on Facebook would see as much content from you as you could produce, free of any cost but the cost of production, and it wouldn’t bear the ‘taint’ of paid advertising.

That time is long past. Today, paying for better positions for your content allows you to cut in line and present your message to your audience with the ease of yesterday. Now, ads on Facebook (and likely the other adopters of this technology) carry their own relevancy scores, judged along the same lines as any other news item feed. But the difference here is extremely important for businesses.

Organic versus Paid Social Content

The items you present unpaid must clear two hurdles: First, you need to have been ‘liked’ by a given user, and second, your content must offer a worthy relevancy score.

Paid content only needs to do the second one. That means your paid content can engage audiences you may not even know exist to be targeted, because Facebook and other social media sites have done the hard work of crunching likely responses and placing your ads in front of the right eyes.

This makes modern algorithm-driven social media sites extremely fertile ground for paid advertising, and especially valuable for effective inbound marketing. Don’t want to try to split the difference between what appeals to social media users, and what you need for effective inbound marketing? Let the algorithms do it for you; make your advertisements perfect for driving the ideal inbound traffic, and leave the rest to Facebook.

In our experience, just a couple dollars a day is enough to take your reach from just 1 percent of your audience to 20+ percent. If you're interested to learn, ask us how.

The Front Door: Engagement

So, let’s look at the front door. For effective inbound marketing to work in the modern social mediascape, your content must encourage engagement. That means provoking actions, convincing your audience to do more than passively enjoy what you have to say. That worked for quite a while on certain social media networks, as you could always wait a while and only issue a CTA rarely, when you thought it would be most potent.

Today, everything needs to call for some sort of action, something that lets the social empires know that users care about what you have to say.

Engagement is still very important

Once you get the hang of doing this, you’ll see major benefits; remember, users are seeing only a fraction of the content thrown at them now, thanks to algorithms. That includes many, many items competing with you for attention. It’s harder to get in the door now, but once you’re in, you’re in a far better position than you were before. So it’s still very worthwhile to engage social media honestly—if you’re willing to put in the effort, research, and care necessary to clear these high new hurdles.

Doing this will require some ingenuity, of course. Remember the way Facebook was looking at video content—something as innocuous as adjusting the volume to better hear what’s being said or maximize the resolution and window size for a better look lead directly to better positioning of similar videos. That doesn’t mean you should think of cheap tricks to force users to up the volume, but it might mean that it’s worthwhile to present content which is worth viewing at a high resolution and volume.

And remember, Facebook is looking at what viewers hate, too. Don’t provoke your users with nonsense they'll dislike but feel forced to engage with.

Parting Thoughts

These changes in the social networking playbook don’t need to become a problem for your business or your goals. Instead, treat them as an opportunity—by being part of the first wave to understand the new way the game is played and take action, you’ll get a major leg up on your competitors.

Some may never catch up to the new normal; others will have to fight you from a position of weakness. Act quickly, decisively, and wisely, and you can turn this inconvenience into a colossal advantage for effective inbound marketing in the years to come.


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About the Author: Samantha Anderson

Samantha Anderson

Samantha is the COO and co-founder of 41 Orange, inc, a marketing agency. She is also currently a member of the Board of Directors for San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, Balboa Park’s resident classical ballet school since 1945. Hailing from the agency world, Sam has worked with Fortune 500 tech, financial, and consumer brands, including Intel, Petco and LPL Financial, to shape their online presence and reach their target audiences more effectively through social media and beyond. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, emphasis in public relations from San Diego State University.